As a young boy, I resented my dad for using that phrase whenever I came to him with a problem.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he’d say, patting me on the head. “Just pretend I’m dead.”
Well, he’s dead now, and I deeply regret not having once thanked him for such invaluable gift — the lifesaving skill of resourcefulness.
The full value of my father’s wisdom, however, was only made clear to me when I lost everything in a financial crash and found myself living in exile in a foreign country with less than a penny to my name, no safety net, and solely responsible for the well-being of my wife and two young daughters. Digging my family out of that muck took almost a decade.
‘Yes, Dad, I figured it out, and since I didn’t thank you in life, launching my book for boys is my way of paying it forward.’
In retrospect, those rough times have made me realize that while my father’s ‘harsh’ treatment helped me develop crucial street-smarts, there were other virtues and life forces I wish he would’ve trained me in that I know would’ve made the ordeal easier to overcome and — likely— prevented it. Virtues like Prudence, Temperance and Justice, which, along with Courage were the four cardinal virtues of classical antiquity instilled in children as part of their upbringing and regular education.
We’re failing in the most basic aspect of teaching kids about the human experience. Disappointment is more common than success, unhappiness is more common than happiness. It’s the first insight of every religion and robust philosophy. — Dr. Leonard Sax, author of ‘Boys Adrift.’
I could have also benefited from the Life Force of Grit which would’ve made it easier to persevere; or the one of Social Intelligence, essential to weave a safety net, or the Life Force of Clear-Eyed Optimism which would’ve helped me put my predicament in perspective keeping me from falling into despair as I often did.
If there ever was a right time to nurture these virtues and life forces in boys, surely this is it. With the world poised on the brink of another Great Depression, they will need every available tool in the survivalist toolbox.
Even before Covid-19, the outlook for boys was less than favorable. Now, rather than a “boy crisis,” we may be confronting a full-blown disaster. As it was, boys already faced a grim and precarious future. A future in which the need for men was already in doubt, amid a present day environment where the very notion of manhood is regularly blasted across social media as toxic, alongside dangerous and misguided calls to neuter — rather than harness — the innate fierce energy in men that so often has been a saving force in times of crisis. A very confusing time to be a boy, to say the least.
Well, things just got a lot more complicated. To such degree, I fear, that mankind’s ultimate destiny may hinge on how we steel our youth to confront one of the greatest challenges in modern history.
In thirty years of working with children, I have never been more worried than right now for our sons. Nearly every problem we face in our civilization intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America. — Dr. Michael Gurian, New York Times bestselling author of ‘The Wonder of Boys’ and ‘Saving our Sons’
I share Dr. Gurian’s worries, but having risen victorious from the ashes of my own ordeal and learned from its lessons, I now look ahead with clear-eyed optimism. Not only from personal experience but also from knowing humanity has been in more dire straits before. In fact, our species came close to extinction about 190,000 years ago. Yet here we are… we figured it out.
With Dad gone, I can think of no better way to express my gratitude than helping boys navigate the rough road ahead. This is my mission in writing ‘The Hero in You.’
In my book, along with 9 other essential life forces, I introduce boys to the Life Force of Clear-Eyed Optimism by way of a quote by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity while an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. “I am an optimist,” Churchill declared. “It doesn’t seem very useful being anything else.”
I then elaborate…
“Churchill was right, sort of, but I’ve discovered a better way to see things thanks to Doctor Albert Schweitzer, famously known for his heroic work healing the sick in Africa in the early 1900s. An optimist, Dr. Schweitzer said, is a person who sees a green light everywhere. A pessimist sees only the red stoplight. Only the truly wise person, he added, is colorblind.
You see, a clear-eyed optimist doesn’t see situations as only green or red, black or white. He neither thinks sunny days will last forever nor walks with a constant cloud over his head predicting more rain ahead. A clear-eyed optimist understands that both light and shadow are part of the landscape, beauty, and spice of life. He knows that the difference between hope and despair is a matter of how you tell the story. The way you choose to narrate your life experiences — good and bad — will either make you a victim of your circumstances or a hero in your own daring adventure.”
To train boys in reframing the narratives to which they often default, my book offers them these practical tools:
“Next time you find yourself thinking in terms of GREEN stoplights, such as,
I got an ‘A’ on my test because I’m super smart.
Everyone loves me because I’m special.
Everything in my life is gonna work out great!
I’m the luckiest boy in the world so don’t need to prepare, train, or work hard at anything.
If I succeed today, I’ll succeed tomorrow.
Or RED lights, like:
I got a ‘D’ on my test because I’m stupid.
No one likes me or wants to hang out with me because I’m a loser.
Things will never work out for me.
I never have any luck so what’s the use in trying.
I’m never trying-out for the class play or soccer team because everyone will laugh at me.
STOP! PLEASE STOP!
Stop using words like “never” or “always” or “everyone.”
Stop labelling yourself as “stupid” “loser” or “smart.” If you got a ‘D’ on your test, chances are you didn’t study hard enough. If you got an ‘A’, give yourself credit for having prepared well, then do it over and over again.
Stop expecting sunshine and rainbows all the time or predicting storms and tsunamis. Stop staring at the thorns in a rose or just admiring the flower. Both thorn and flower are part of what it is to be a rose. If you’re not ready to accept the shitty parts of life, don’t expect the good ones either.”
“The fact that you’re reading this book means I was successful in getting it published. But while writing it, things were not looking good. Not good at all.
I had been working on the book for close to a year, and, seeing I was almost done, I decided to submit it to literary agents hoping to find someone interested in its publication. This is just like what aspiring actors must do if they want to be hired for a movie. They first need to find an agent.
Of the 33 agents to whom I’d sent the book, 11 had already rejected me and I had not heard from the others which meant they probably weren’t interested. Making things worse, I had run out of money and was as desperate as a hungry squirrel suffering from amnesia in the dead of winter.
Before discovering the wise words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, this is how I would’ve explained my situation:
“I’m screwed! There’s nothing I can do. Everyone hates my book. I’m a terrible writer and it’s my fault for thinking otherwise. This always happens to me and always will. I’m gonna end up out on the street starving to death. The world is not fair. I give up!”
Spoken like a true gloomy-eyed pessimist… all dark clouds, headwinds, storms, and tsunamis. Only seeing red stoplights.
A foolish optimist, or nincompoop, on the other hand, would tell the story quite differently:
“No need to stress out. Things will work out somehow, I can feel it! I’m special. People like me. My life will get better and better like in those movies with happy endings. All I need to do is wish harder and my dreams will come true.”
All sunny-sunshine, unicorns, cotton candy, and dazzling rainbows. Only seeing green lights.
A colorblind, or clear-eyed optimist is more like Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective of all time.
Holmes would set all emotions aside, and, before jumping to conclusions, would search for clues, gather evidence, and then look coldly at the facts. His clear-eyed analysis would provide a more realistic and useful narrative for my predicament.
Here’s what he would tell me:
You have given this book all you’ve got. Perhaps not 24/7, but close enough, for almost 365 days. You have also researched over 50 books as part of that work. So the fact that it might not get published has nothing to do with your effort of which you should be very proud. If you need to blame someone, blame your bad luck, not your dedication.
Being Sherlock, I have taken the time to investigate the book industry. While the information is not all that clear, it appears that the odds of getting your book published are anywhere from 300,000 to a million-to-one. You must come to terms with this and adjust your expectations. Not everyone will become famous and chances are you won’t either. But remember what you’ve said before: You’re not writing this book to become famous; you’re writing it to help boys. If you are to live true to your word, you’ll print the book yourself, if that’s what it takes, and personally hand it to every boy you can, even if it means going door-to-door like those poor kids who are forced to sell magazine subscriptions to their neighbors to raise money for their school.
Also, none of the 11 agents who have rejected your book have said they hate it. What they’ve said is that it’s not for them. Big difference. Not everyone likes Brussel Sprouts (I sure don’t) but that doesn’t mean that they’re disgusting, nor that there aren’t people who love them. You just haven’t found the right agent for your book, that’s all.
Further, I have found no evidence to prove your claim that you’re a bad writer. What I have seen is how hard you work every day to become a better one and haven’t quit. You should be very proud of that.
You’re also incorrect in saying ‘this always happens to me.’ I have examined your life’s story and have found many instances where you have succeeded. Do yourself a favor and go back to those moments to find calm, inspiration, and strength.
You predict you will end up in the street starving to death, but you forget you’ve been in worse situations and managed to figure it out. The evidence tells me you’re a warrior and survivor so stop wasting time predicting rain and start making sunshine like you’ve done in the past.
You claim the world’s not fair? Ha-ha! Really? Tell me something I don’t know.
You give up? Seriously? And what will you tell those boys whom you’re urging to be heroes? Even worse, what will you tell yourself? You’re supposed to be an example of the heroic life. Heroes don’t give up. They adjust, adapt, and try over and over again until they get it right. Do yourself another favor and memorize this number: 606. It’s the name given to a successful drug developed by Dr. Paul Ehrlich in the early 1900s. It was called 606 because he had failed 605 times before!
Finally, even if your book fails, you have a choice in how you tell the story. You can tell it as a tragedy in which you played the part of the hapless victim, or turn it into the greatest tale of adventure and take credit for having dared greatly, just like American President Theodore Roosevelt said in this famous speech:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Exemplified by the sagacity of Sherlock Holmes, and midpoint between a sunny Pollyanna and a doomsayer like Nostradamus, the Life Force of Clear-Eyed Optimism has never been more crucial.
Yes, Covid-19 has made the future for boys much more complicated than it already was, but neither victory nor defeat are cast in stone. Although telling boys “You’ll figure it out” will make them resourceful (like it did me), we need to do much more to fortify their psyches and gird their souls for the enormous challenges they now face.
My book aims to do just that.
‘It is also my way of telling you, Dad: “Thank you, wherever you are.’
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